Iraqi Women Academics Form Network to Overcome Challenges
A new online network of Iraqi women academics wants the political differences that brought the country “to the abyss” to be a source of strength instead.
The Iraqi Women Academics Network, or IWAN, brings together female scholars whose research focuses on Iraq to help them overcome difficulties in teaching and research.
The network’s members intend to make IWAN an institution that supports Iraqi women researchers inside and outside the country.
Hadeel Abdelhameed, the network’s founder, told Al-Fanar Media: “Iraqi women academics at home and abroad face problems because of political and social circumstances. We want to support ourselves in the face of these many difficulties.”
Political and gender considerations that hinder female scholars’ ability to express their opinions are one of the main problems the network is trying to solve, said Abdelhameed, who is a research fellow at Australia’s Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation.
“Iraqi women academics at home and abroad face problems because of political and social circumstances. We want to support ourselves in the face of these many difficulties.”Hadeel Abdelhameed
The network’s founder
“We are specialised academics, fluent in more than one language, and not less than the men who appear on screens to discuss Iraq’s issues at research conferences,” she added.
Before moving to Australia in 2011, Abdelhameed earned a master’s degree in contemporary American drama at the University of Baghdad. She was a faculty member at the university’s College of Languages when she found herself forced to seek asylum abroad after her family received threats.
While in exile, Abdelhameed obtained a doctorate at La Trobe University, in Melbourne, with a Ph.D. thesis comparing how war stories are presented onstage in Iraq and Australia. She has also worked as a researcher specialising in Iraqi feminist studies at Germany’s Konrad Adenauer Foundation.
Workshops in Iraq and Abroad
The new network has 22 members. They plan to hold workshops abroad and inside Iraq to help young researchers communicate with Western universities and research centres and translate their published Arabic works about Iraq into other languages.
Abdelhameed said the network does not receive material assistance from any party, but hopes to obtain aid from international organisations so long as it remains unpoliticised.
Maysaa Jaber, a lecturer of English at the University of Baghdad, is a member of IWAN. She told Al-Fanar Media: “Connecting academics at home and abroad is very important but it must seem natural and not condescending to avoid being counterproductive.”
She hopes the communication among academics leads to joint research projects, “raising academies’ teaching and scientific capabilities and filling the shortfall in services at some Iraqi educational institutions.”
Jaber also spoke of the difficulties women academics face at home. These include discrimination and obstacles to promotion, as well as the lack of academic freedom and interference in the work of faculty members.
“We are trying to help young female academics through training workshops, and to overcome the difficulties that prevent some of them traveling abroad to complete their academic careers by obtaining master’s and doctoral degrees.”Maysaa Jaber
A lecturer of English at the University of Baghdad
These difficulties left an impression on Jaber, who spent five years outside Iraq obtaining a doctorate from Britain’s University of Manchester before returning in 2011. Jaber realised that her principal role as an academic in Iraq was to resist racial discrimination, to support female students and academics in their choices, and to push them to think critically.
Jaber wants to develop the network into an organisation that has an impact inside Iraq.
She explained: “We are trying to help young female academics through training workshops, and to overcome the difficulties that prevent some of them traveling abroad to complete their academic careers by obtaining master’s and doctoral degrees.”
Helping Scholars in the Diaspora
The network also helps Iraqi academics in the diaspora. These include scholars like Ruba Ali Al-Hassani, who was born in 1983 in the United Arab Emirates. Her family left Iraq because of the Iraq-Iran war (1980-1988), then emigrated to Canada while she was still young.
Al-Hassani has returned to Iraq a few times, most recently in 2011, to conduct research. She studied the transitional justice system in Iraq and explored sociological and behavioural approaches to studies of Iraqi issues.
Al-Hassani obtained her Ph.D. at York University, in Canada, and also studied there at Trent University and the University of Toronto. She is currently a postdoctoral researcher at Britain’s Lancaster University.
“Part of my work and activities is an attempt to cling to my Iraqi identity,” she told Al-Fanar Media. “I seek to use my research work and activities like joining IWAN to better understand Iraq.”
“In this network, we seek to be a platform for all women academic voices representing Iraq’s religious, ethnic, and geographical diversity. We know that that diversity makes it unique.”Ruba Ali Al-Hassani
An Iraqi-Canadian scholar who studies the transitional justice system in Iraq
She added: “In this network, we seek to be a platform for all women academics’ voices, representing Iraq’s religious, ethnic, and geographical diversity. We know that this diversity makes it unique.”
Al-Hassani believes the network’s priority should be “to revitalise discussion panels on academic research, especially those focusing on Iraq itself.”
Al-Hassani wants to make the network into “an institution that educates people, raises the voice of women academics through research, and contributes to encouraging younger generations to pursue higher studies.”
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She concluded, “We don’t want this network to be politicised. Politicisation is what pushed our country to the edge of the abyss. We would rather emphasize the Iraqi society’s diversity as one of its precious resources.”
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